Fever, p.30Part #2 of Breathless series by Maya Banks
with that is, she’s worried and she misses him.”
“Sucks for you, man,” Ash said.
“Yeah. I want her happy, and in order for that to happen, she needs to know that Jack is safe and taken care of.”
“So what are you going to do?”
Jace shrugged. “Hell if I know. I have Kaden and Trevor keeping an eye on things. What I don’t want is him showing up to see Bethany when none of us are around. I don’t trust him. Not after that shit he pulled.”
Ash’s brows furrowed. “What shit? Are you talking something specific or just his normal bullshit of popping in and out?”
“I didn’t tell you,” Jace murmured. “I’d forgotten you didn’t know all the crap that went down that day it all went to shit and I thought I’d lost her for good. Jesus. Talk about a total cluster fuck.”
“What the hell?”
Jace sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Jack showed up at her apartment when I’d taken her back by there on my way to work. I got a call from Kaden that Jack was there. So I go over there, only she’s no longer there and I find his backpack in her apartment and it’s full of drugs. We’re talking several Gs worth of shit.”
“What the fuck?”
“Yeah. That was my reaction too. So then Bethany comes home and I was an asshole. Lost my shit. Said a bunch of crap I didn’t mean. Made her feel like she had nothing. She took off before I could stop her. So I spent the rest of the afternoon losing my mind because I couldn’t find her. Then I got a call that she was back at the apartment, only when I get there, she’d already bolted again. Then the doorman at my building calls to say that she’s at my place but she wouldn’t come in and she was standing in the fucking rain freezing her ass off.”
“Holy shit,” Ash murmured.
“Oh, it gets worse.”
Ash lifted an eyebrow.
“Yeah, apparently when I decide to be an asshole, I go all the way.”
“Yeah, I get to my place, relieved as shit that she’s still there. Only she’s standing in the rain, crying her eyes out and she tells me it’s over and that I’m bad for her.”
Jace had to break off and collect himself because the memory of that day still burned too bright in his mind. Of what he’d almost driven her to. It still had the power to knock him to his knees. He could have so easily lost her. All because he was so fucking obsessed with her that he lost all reason around her. His instinct was to hold too tight, to lay down the law and to completely take over.
“She was so upset by our earlier argument—and this I didn’t know at the time, but our good friend Jack, a man who’s supposed to care about her, had brought the shit she used to be hooked on to her apartment. A little gift for her, apparently.”
“Oh hell no,” Ash growled.
“She told him she didn’t want his shit but he left it there and so when she got back to her apartment after walking around in the rain crying her eyes out over the shit I’d said to her, she almost took a pill. Had it in her mouth, about to swallow, when she realized what she was doing and so she dumped the entire bottle down the sink.”
“Good for her,” Ash murmured.
“Yeah. She’s strong. She thinks she’s weak but she’s fucking fierce.”
“So what happened then?” Ash asked.
“She was so devastated by what she’d almost done that she went straight to my apartment to break things off. She was prepared to go back to her old life because at least then she knew who she was and what she was. She didn’t think she was good enough for me. And she couldn’t take the emotional strain of our relationship any longer.”
“Christ, man, that sounds heavy. I’m sorry.”
“Looking back, it was probably the best thing for us. It forced me to listen to her and I also learned about her past and the shit she went through and why she’s so fucking loyal to Kingston. But it was as hard as hell at the time and it still scares the shit out of me when I think of how close I came to losing her.”
“You’re in love with her,” Ash said quietly.
“Hell yes, I’m in love with her. Isn’t it obvious?”
“No, I mean she’s really it for you. I admit I had my doubts, but she’s the one, man. I’m happy for both of you. And I’m sorry I gave you such grief in the beginning. I owe Bethany one hell of an apology.”
Jace gave him a crooked grin. “Yeah, she’s it for me. I would have never thought it possible to fall in love with a woman as fast as I fell for her, but Jesus. It was like being hit by lightning. The best and worst feeling in the world. It’s no fun being this gone over a woman and feeling the uncertainty of knowing if I don’t play it just right I’ll lose her.”
“Yeah, no thanks,” Ash said sourly. “Guess I’ll be the only one remaining who adheres to the ‘play hard and live free’ motto.”
“Asshole. Just wait until it happens to you, man. Gabe and I will be laughing our asses off.”
Ash snorted. “Don’t hold your breath.”
“So what’s up with the family from hell? Why they still giving you shit?”
Ash sighed. “Don’t really want to talk about them. Ruins my day.”
Jace continued to stare at him expectantly.
“Just same old shit. Apparently the dear grandfather isn’t feeling well. He’s convinced he’s going to kick the bucket any day. Never mind he’s been saying this shit for years. And his wish is to have his dear, loving family with him on his deathbed. Mom and Dad are just worried that if I don’t come to heel they’ll be cut out of his will and so they’re on my back wanting me to come to family dinners and play nice with the rest of the clan. Self-serving leeches, all of them.”
Jace winced. “Sorry, man. That sucks balls.”
“You’re telling me.”
“You tell them to go fuck themselves?”
Ash went silent and dropped his gaze.
Jace immediately sat forward. “You did tell them to go fuck themselves, right?”
Ash sighed. “I like the old man. He’s the only one who ever gave a fuck about me. If it was just Mom and Dad and my siblings, yeah, I’d tell them to fuck off.”
“Jesus, you’re going to do it, aren’t you? You’re actually going to play nice with them for him?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” he muttered. “Haven’t decided. I’ve been invited to dinner next week. Granddad is going to be there. The whole fucking family will be there.”
“I’ll go with you,” Jace said quickly. “Gabe will too. And Mia.”
Ash looked back up at him, fierce love reflected in his green eyes. “You know I love you guys. You’ve always had my back. I’ll never forget that. But you and Gabe have Mia and Bethany now. I don’t want either of them—or you and Gabe—exposed to my nest of vipers.”
“That’s bullshit,” Jace cut in impatiently. “We’re your family. You’re real family. And family doesn’t leave family to deal with this shit alone.”
“I’m a big boy now. I can deal with their bullshit. I’d rather Mia and Bethany not be exposed to their manipulations. They’re malicious on a good day. Can you imagine what they’d do to Bethany if they knew about her past? They’d rip her to shreds without a thought. Do you honestly want that for her when things are still so new between you?”
Jace slowly shook his head. “No, I don’t. We don’t have to bring her. I can go with you and leave her at the apartment. Or I’ll have Mia spend the evening with her. I just don’t want you going without someone at your back.”
Ash stood. “I appreciate that, man. More than you’ll ever know. But some things I have to do on my own. This is one of them. I’ll go. Make it clear they can’t fuck with me like they used to. I’ll make an appearance for Granddad, but the rest of them can kiss my ass.”
“Okay, but if you change your mind you know Gabe and I will be there with you, no questions asked.”
“Yeah, I do know. And thanks.”
Ash started to walk to
Jace hesitated and then finally shook his head. “No. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I don’t want to ever be in a position where I lie to Bethany, and if I knew Jack was in trouble, I’d definitely lie to her. I wouldn’t want her involved in any way. It’s better if neither of us knows.”
Ash nodded. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.”
“Will do, and Ash? Let me know how things go, okay? We’ll get together after your dinner with the family from hell. You, me, Gabe, Mia and Bethany. We’ll have dinner.”
“Sounds good. See you around.”
Jace watched as Ash walked out, his chest heavy. He didn’t miss any part of the threesomes they used to indulge in, but he did miss that connection with Ash. It was twisted, but they’d been friends who shared damn near everything for a lot of years and now suddenly things were very different.
Hell, he hadn’t even seen much of Ash since meeting Bethany. He and Gabe both had been focused on the women they loved, which meant Ash had solidly been pushed from the tight circle he used to occupy a huge part of.
His office line rang and he picked it up. A few minutes later, he was swearing and striding into Gabe’s office.
“What the fuck is up with the Paris deal?” he demanded. “I just got a call that two of our biggest investors have pulled out.”
Bethany picked up the phone when it rang and uttered a hesitant hello.
“Miss Willis, Mr. McIntyre is here. Shall I send him up?”
Her pulse sped up. Jace wasn’t home yet and it was past his usual time. Maybe Ash thought he’d be here already?
“Uhm, sure,” she replied.
She wiped her hands nervously down her jeans and then castigated herself. Ash had been the epitome of polite and nice ever since the night she’d had sex with him and Jace. There was no reason for her to work herself into knots every time she had to face him.
A few moments later, the elevator opened and Ash stepped out.
“Hello, Bethany,” he said, offering her a warm smile.
“Hi, Ash. Jace isn’t home yet.”
Ash frowned. “Damn. Thought he’d be here. I needed to give him a folder. Deal’s going south on us. He may have been tied up at the office longer than I thought, trying to straighten this shit out.”
Her brow crinkled. “It sounds bad. Is it?”
He smiled. “Nothing we can’t handle. Shit like this happens all the time. Just another day at the office.”
“Come in. Don’t just stand there. My manners are horrible. Why don’t you sit in the living room? I’m sure he’ll be here shortly. Would you like some hot chocolate? I was just making some.”
“Sure,” he said, walking farther in. “Going to have a cup with me?”
She smiled, relaxing under his easy charm. “Yeah, go sit and I’ll grab us both a cup.”
She puttered around the kitchen, heating two cups and mixing in the chocolate. She sweetened hers and paused, not sure how Ash liked his. Oh well. She shrugged and made his like she preferred hers.
Then she carried the cup into the living room and handed him his.
He stared at her over his mug as she took a seat in the armchair a good distance from where he sat.
“So how you doing?” he asked quietly.
“I’m fine,” she said brightly.
He gave her a look that clearly said bullshit.
She sighed. “I’m good, really. Worried about Jack. Which is stupid, but I can’t exactly control it. I guess I just feel guilty because I have so much now and he still has nothing.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call a free place to live nothing,” Ash said dryly.
Her shoulders heaved. “You’re right. And I think that’s what pisses me off. Jace really went out on a limb for him. And he did it for me. I know Jace hates it. He has every right to. But he did that for me and he did it for Jack because he knew it would make me happy. And it pisses me off that Jack is being so stupid about it.”
She scowled, realizing she really was angry. She’d been so buried in worry and anxiety that she hadn’t really delved into the fact that she was mad at Jack for being so dismissive of all Jace was doing for him.
“He could at least let me know how he’s doing, you know?” she continued, becoming more pissed by the minute.
“Yeah, he could,” Ash agreed. “But, honey, listen to me. You have to stop wasting so much emotional energy on this guy. He’s a big boy. You can’t make his decisions for him and, furthermore, you damn sure shouldn’t feel guilty because you straightened out your life and he refuses to do the same.”
“You’re right,” she murmured. “I know you’re right. But it’s hard. Really hard to just do a complete one-eighty when for the last several years he’s all I’ve known. It’s natural for me to worry about Jack because I’ve always worried about him.”
Ash cleared his throat. “There’s actually something else I wanted to talk to you about. Now is as good a time as any since we’re alone. You and I have only seen each other a couple of times since that first night, and it’s not exactly a topic I wanted to get into around other people.”
Heat suffused her cheeks. Oh God. He was going to bring up the night of the threesome. Mortification seized her and she couldn’t meet his gaze.
“Honey, look at me,” Ash said gently.
She shot to her feet, leaving her mug on the coffee table and turned away to stare out the window over the city. Outside, lights twinkled as day faded to night.
She jumped when she heard his voice directly behind her. He’d followed her to the window and now she had no choice but to face him.
He touched her shoulder and she slowly turned to meet his gaze. There was warmth and understanding in his eyes.
“I know you probably don’t think I’m good enough for him either,” she said in a low voice. “Especially with how we met. That night . . .”
He put his fingers to her lips. “That’s bullshit,” he said bluntly. “I owe you a huge apology and I’m going to say it now.”
Her eyes widened. “Why would you have anything to be sorry for?”
“Because in the beginning, I didn’t think you were a good idea for Jace. I’m his friend and I was worried.”
She nodded, her heart sinking. Logically, she’d known his friends wouldn’t have embraced her in his life, but somehow hearing it made it hurt more than thinking it on her own.
“I was wrong.”
She blinked. “You were?”
“I was one hundred percent wrong, honey. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to Jace. And I brought up that night, not to make you uncomfortable, although that’s exactly what I’ve done, but because I don’t want this awkwardness between us to go on. Jace is like a brother to me. We’ve been friends for years. I don’t want that to change. You’re important to him. He’s important to me. Which makes you important to me as well.”
“Really?” she whispered.
He smiled. “Yeah, really. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy that night. That’s a fact. You’re a beautiful, desirable woman. Can’t change it. Don’t really want to. You’re special, Bethany. But I also know Jace loves you a hell of a lot and I can see that you love him too. What I’d like is for us to be able to put that night behind us and move forward. I’d like us to be friends.”
She smiled, her entire face widening with joy. “I’d like that too.”
He reached out and touched her cheek, caressing a line down her cheekbone with his thumb. “There you have it then.”
“What the fuck is going on here?”
Jace’s voice exploded into the living room and Bethany jumped, Ash’s hand sliding from her face
Bethany’s eyes widened in alarm while Ash’s darkened with anger. Jace looked . . . furious.
• • •
Jace punched the button for the elevator and seethed with impatience as he rode up to his apartment. The day had gone to hell fast with the departure of two investors for their Paris hotel project. Damn it, he’d worked long and hard on getting them committed and now they’d waffled at the eleventh hour.
He and Gabe had spent most of the afternoon on the phone trying to find out what the fuck was up and he’d left far later than he’d planned. All he wanted to do was see Bethany, take her for a nice dinner and then make love the rest of the night. Tomorrow morning would suck because with the withdrawal of the two largest investors, it was entirely possible others would follow suit. They had to repair the problem and fast. Even if it meant sinking more of their own capital into the venture.
The doors opened and he was greeted by the sight of Bethany and Ash standing across the living room in front of the window. And she was smiling. Her entire face was lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree. It was the first time he’d seen her really smile with that much enthusiasm in a week. She was looking at Ash like he’d just hung the fucking moon.
And then Ash touched her face. It wasn’t a casual gesture at all and it sent alarm bells clanging in his head. There was an intimacy to that touch. And the look on Ash’s face. Tender. Affectionate.
What the fuck was going on?
His temper exploded, a result of a shitty day gone even shittier by finding Ash in his apartment, touching his woman and her smiling at fucking Ash in a way she hadn’t smiled for him in days. All he could think about was that night. Ash’s mouth on her skin, his dick inside her mouth, her ass. The gasps of pleasure that Ash had wrung from her. It made him crazy.
“What the fuck is going on here?” he asked icily.
Ash and Bethany both whirled around to look at him, Ash’s hand sliding from Bethany’s face. Bethany’s eyes widened in alarm while Ash immediately looked pissed off. Fuck that.
“Ash came by to see you,” Bethany said in a low voice.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Jace growled.
“You know what? Fuck you, man,” Ash snapped. “Can’t believe you’d come in here like this, especially after all we had to say in the office today. Moreover, can’t believe you’d disrespect Bethany this way.”
“The way I see it, I’m the one being disrespected in my own apartment,” Jace bit back.
“I’m out of here,” Ash snarled.
He paused and sent Bethany a look of apology.
“I’m sorry, honey. Really sorry. If you need anything, call me, okay?”
And that just set Jace off even more. That Ash was actually suggesting that Bethany would need him as a result of whatever the fuck was going on here and now.
“I’m sorry too,” Bethany whispered.
Her face was a wreath of mortification, red suffusing her cheeks. As Ash stalked by Jace, he muttered, “What a dick,” and then got into the elevator.
When Jace glanced back up at Bethany, prepared to demand an explanation, tears glittered in her eyes and her shoulders were slumped in defeat. She wouldn’t even look at him.
His stomach knotted and he immediately regretted the conclusions he’d jumped to. He couldn’t even call them conclusions. He’d lashed out because he was already pissed, frustrated and tired. All he’d wanted was a quiet evening alone with Bethany and he’d arrived here to see Ash up close and personal with Bethany.
Fuck, but he’d done it again. Spoke without thinking. And now Bethany was next to tears. He’d embarrassed her and he’d pissed off his best friend. He was beginning to make a regular practice out of being a first-class asshole.
Fever by Maya Banks / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes